Winter Shorts receives warm reception

On the set of “Ace,” (from left to right) Ariana Polonco, Victoria Nelson, and Darren Napoli. Polonco is playing as one of the many natural elements that Alexis, played by Nelson, has to evade as she tries to solve riddles made by the Incubus, played by Napoli. Polonco in this scene has taken the form of ice.

The hall under the dimly lit Salisbury Theatre was brimming with bright energy on Nov. 10. People dressed in a variety of clothes, from casual to elegant, were rushing back and forth from the Department of Theater and Film’s dressing rooms to the backstage of this year’s production of Winter Shorts.

Hosted by the UAF Student Drama Association, Winter Shorts is the university’s annual collection of student-produced and performed, one act plays. The 2017 lineup featured “The Writer,” “Home,” “Over the Line,” and “Ace.” This year’s production also debuted the works of two UAF students, Freddy Gryder and Fredrica Matumeak.

Even as a long-time performer and set designer for previous “Winter Shorts,” Gryder expressed enthusiasm and excitement for having his piece, “Over the Line” accepted into the lineup.

Luke Williams (left) playing the highstrung Marcus who is in a heated debate with his bisexual, stoner roomate Cleo, played by Gary Becker in “Over the Line.” The two go into deep discussions about the nature of labels and terms used to describe those in the LGBT community and deliniate which ones are harmful and which are not.

“When I first saw it, I had to go out and cry because it was just so cool. It was like, ‘finally, I get to see it,’” Gryder said about seeing his piece, “Over the Line,” a play revolving around two bantering roommates as they discuss gender identity and sexual preferences.

Along with the debut of “Over the Line,” Gryder stepped into the role of director for the first time in “The Writer.” He was relieved to find that his actors took directions well, saying he’s been in plenty of productions where he worked with difficult actors. This year that did not seem to be the case, with others chiming in on their thoughts of the cast.

Luke Williams, who played the part of Markus in “Over the Line” and performed in last year’s Winter Shorts, said that the cast seemed to be more group centered this time around.

“We’re all very friendly, we have a lot of good camaraderie going for us this time as opposed to last time where it felt very segmented based on our shows,” said Williams.

The cast of Winter Shorts cheer as they finish off their pre-show, pep huddle. The cast is much smaller compared to last year’s performance but performer Luke Williams and director Freddy Gryer noted closer bonds and a friendly atmosphere because of it.

The strong sense of community among the cast and crew was palpable; chatting and laughter were common sounds in the theater while gearing up for opening night. To cap off the last minute preparations for the show, Mary Conlin, director of “Home” and technical director for the whole production, rallied the cast and crew together into a huddle and gave a motivating speech to help everyone put on their “game face.”

Everything seemed to be falling into place, although one performer, Kelsey Nore, who played Clarence in “The Writer” expressed he wished the tech rehearsals were scheduled a couple of weeks earlier instead of a week before the performance, especially with a tech heavy act like “Ace” featured in the lineup, which included theatrical haze and elaborate lighting.

A few minutes before the show, the huddled group let out a final cheer, the audience started to roll into the theater for opening night.

The pieces themselves all varied in theme and tone. Some dealt with more grounded subjects, like “Home,” where a woman struggles to confront her husband about a suspected affair and worries about the potential outcome of that confrontation.

(From left to right) Sarah Williams, Darren Napoli, and Sam Thompson. Williams in the role of Woman and Napoli as Man sitting down at a hypothetical marriage counseling session with Thompson as the Marriage Counselor on the set of “Home.” The scene depicted is one of the many imagined scenarios that the Woman creates as she speculates on the future of her marriage.

When discussing the mature themes of some of the plays, Gryder stated the production team is up front about the content of the shorts.

“I’d like to think that we generate an adult atmosphere, this is definitely not something you want to bring your kids to… we warn people about what we’re about to show them and if they don’t like it, they’ve been warned,” he said. “If they love it then that’s great theater.”

Other plays were more abstract like the fantastical “Ace,” which took place in an ethereal realm controlled by an Incubus and “The Writer,” a comedic meta-play that explored existential themes as the audience followed self-aware characters, trapped into serving the whims and wants of an omnipotent writer.

Coming out of Winter Shorts, attendee Ray Bonnell claimed to be very pleased with how they turned out. Bonnell, who has seen previous Winter Shorts productions, admitted that sometimes the pieces and performances could sometimes be challenging and uncomfortable but that overall it was a great experience.

“I like that they try not only to get the students involved in the plays,” Bonnell said, ” but that they get the local community involved as well.”